drought holds steady amid summer storms, experts say
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[August 15, 2014]
By Shawn Hubler
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - As
California lawmakers moved a nearly $7.6 billion water bond to the
November ballot, federal meteorologists said on Thursday that the
state's ongoing drought has appeared to level off, though conditions
remain "extreme" in 80 percent of the state.
"Areas of dryness and drought remained unchanged," according to
the National Drought Mitigation Center, based at the University of
Nebraska, despite epic storms that have intermittently lashed parts
of both Northern and Southern California.
Torrential rains early this month triggered lethal mudslides and
flash floods in the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles, and
thunderstorms both eased and complicated the work of firefighters
battling wildfires this week in Northern California.
But those storms "were pretty much a drop in the bucket," said
Richard Tinker, a drought expert with the federal government's
Climate Prediction Center.
"Any rain this time of year - while a bonus - doesn't really have
much of an effect on the drought," Tinker said.
Nearly 82 percent of the state is experiencing "extreme" drought,
according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is updated
weekly by the center. Fifty-eight percent of the state, meanwhile,
is withering under "exceptional" drought, which is the most severe
measure on the center's scale.
The figures, while sobering, indicated a pause in what had been a
seemingly inexorable expansion of the drought across the nation’s
most populous state and most important agricultural producer. The
percentage of the state gripped by the drought has been relatively
unchanged for the past couple of weeks.
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Tinker added that the state's major reservoirs in aggregate were at
59 percent of the historical average—low, but not as low as the 41
percent recorded during the 1976-77 drought.
Only a handful of smaller Central Coast dams, he said, had fallen
below those 1977 levels, a situation that lawmakers are seeking to
address with the water bond proposed for the upcoming ballot.
Made more urgent as the drought has strained California's water
supply to crisis proportions, funds raised by selling bonds would
shore up the state's water infrastructure, underwriting projects
that include improved water storage, flood control, groundwater
cleanup, drinking and wastewater treatment and investments to
address climate change.
(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Sandra Maler)
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